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Department of Biostatistics

Rongheng Lin

Rongheng Lin

A 2005-2006 graduate of our department, Rongheng Lin wrote his PhD thesis, "Loss Function Based Ranking Methods with Applications to Health Services Research and Gene Expression," under the direction of Tom Louis. Rongheng is now an assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics at the University of Massachusetts School of Public Health.

How did you get interested in the field of Biostatistics? What was your background before enrolling at Hopkins?

I actually knew very little about biostatistics and public health before I went to Hopkins. When I was applying for graduate admission, I was looking for information about the Hopkins statistics program (part of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics in the School of Engineering) and guided by some external link or search engine, came across the webpage of the Department of Biostatistics. I may have heard the word "biostatistics" before that, but never really connected it to my career. The interesting application of biostatistics and its importance, as presented by the department's website, attracted me immediately. That was the starting point of my journey into biostatistics.

My undergraduate background was in mathematical statistics. Before I went to Hopkins, most of my relevant statistical experience was on formula derivation rather than real data analysis. I remember very clearly that after a few weeks of study at Hopkins, I realized that in my first month of biostatistics courses, I had seen more data than I had in my four years of undergraduate studies.

How did Johns Hopkins Biostatistics prepare you for your career? What aspects of the program did you find most useful?

I am now an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Massachusets, Amherst. My responsibilities, mostly standard for academia, include teaching, research and service. Most of my teaching is at the graduate level and is for both biostatistics students and students from other fields of public health. My research includes both statistical methodological research and applied collaborative research in other fields, e.g., epidemiology, nutrition, biology, health policy, medicine, etc. Within my department, I serve on different administrative and thesis committees thesis and mentor students. I also provide service to the professional community.

How did Johns Hopkins Biostatistics prepare you for your career? What aspects of the program did you find most useful?

Johns Hopkins Biostatistics provided a solid foundation instatistical education while also providing a comprehensive perspective on public health to its graduate students. With my background in very theoretical mathematical statistics, it took some time for me eventually to recognize that the importance of biostatistics comes from its role in the application, rather than from the complexity of itself. I think that concept was a very important, if not the most important thing that a biostatistics program should convey to its students and I think Hopkins Biostatistics did very well in this respect.

What are your favorite memories of your time at Johns Hopkins Biostatistics?

I very much enjoyed the collegial and thought-provoking atmosphere there. We students got great mentors and felt that the faculty cared about us very much. My favorite part was the weekly seminars, presented by top researchers from around the world (although certainly in my early years of the program, I understood very little due to barriers of both language and fundamental knowledge). But the bottom line was, the cookies and coffee were very good. :)

Is there any other information about your experience at Hopkins that would be useful for prospective students?

After getting my offer from Hopkins, I began to research Baltimore and learned that the city was not very safe. I actually imagined that I might need to go to school every day with bullets whistling around me! I decided to go to Hopkins anyway, thinking that it was a big university and most people there had done just fine. I am glad that I made that decision all those years ago. I hope the safety of Baltimore has improved in the years since I left, but I think it would also be very helpful to inform potential applicants that there are strong measures taken on campus to keep everyone safe.